Posted by: Danny Zawacki, Group 39, TEFL PCV in Konotop, Sumska Oblast
This blog entry is written by an American Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) currently living and working in Ukraine. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, an American volunteer program run by the United States Government, the U.S. Embassy hosted a competition among all Ukraine-based PCVs and posting the top three essays. This essay won third place. You can read the first & second place winning essays here.
To learn more about 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps please read E-journal.
To learn more about Peace Corps in Ukraine please visit official website.
They say that every Ukrainian woman makes borscht using her own special recipe. Each pot is unique from the one sitting next to it. There is a basic recipe that includes water, meat, cabbage, onion, carrot, potatoes and seasonings. But every woman gives it her own flair. I remember in training how my host mother, Mama Natasha, had a borscht recipe that used rabbit meat instead of the traditional chicken. The rabbit meat added what I thought to be the perfect flavoring to the pot of borscht, but I’m sure some of my cluster mates would have disagreed with me. They would have told me that their host mom made the best borscht. Even my host father had his own recipe for borscht; I don’t think it was as good as the rabbit one, but it was still pretty darn good. But that’s just the way borscht recipes are, pretty darn good even if they all happen to be different.
When I was considering applying for the Peace Corps, I talked to a recruiter to try and get some answers to all the burning questions I had. I remember telling people how he wasn’t very helpful because he didn’t tell me what I should expect in Peace Corps. His answers for my questions always started out with, “It’s hard to say because everyone’s service is different but..,” and then he’d finish with a very broad, vague answer. I was frustrated. I wanted to know exactly what I should expect. Now I know what he meant and why he couldn’t say much. It’s true, everyone’s service is different.
Just like a pot of borscht, everyone has a different recipe for Peace Corps service. Everyone starts with the basic ingredients like a host country, a new language, a working assignment, and twenty-seven months abroad. But once you add all of those things into the pot, it’s up to the individual volunteer to create their own flavors. Volunteers have different sites to add to their Peace Corps recipe. Some of them are teachers at schools and some of them work in community or youth development. A fair share of volunteers join working groups to add more of their own interests to their service. Some volunteers travel from site and others like to stay close to home during their service. Some volunteers enjoy their life in small villages while others enjoy their lives in larger cities. Not all volunteers have hot water. Not all volunteers have indoor toilets. Most don’t seem to care if they have all of these things or not.
I’ve heard many times that borscht tastes better the day after you make it. From what I gather, this is because all of the flavors in the pot get a chance to sit and meld with the other flavors in the pot. The strong flavors are balanced by the mild flavors creating a whole new flavor. And, if you’re making red borscht, the extra time gives the beets a chance to turn everything in the pot a deep red hue.
The same is true for Peace Corps service; it gets better as it ages. We all remember our training. It was nearly three months of intensive study of a new culture, language and profession. But each day, you could lie in bed at night and think about how this day was better than the previous day. Maybe today you learned the alphabet or you realized that you could read a shop sign. The next day you would lie in the same place and realize that you can now conjugate the verb ‘to eat’. Each day improved on the previous day. Once you arrive at your site, you come to realize that those daily victories don’t stop. Every day you feel like you learned something new or took a step in the right direction. Before you know it, your pot of borscht is more than ready to eat.
If I’m ever asked by someone wanting to know what to expect in their Peace Corps service, I’ll tell them they should expect to learn to make their own borscht.